Childhood, Environments, Parenting

“They wrecked it!” – REFLECTING ON THE AESTHETICS OF PLAY SPACES

This morning I stopped myself just in time. I was outside with my three little ones and I happened to look over and see the state of the fairy garden that I had lovingly and carefully created for my daughter over summer. The once pristine fairy village, complete with river and bridge, toadstool homes and sweet little fairies and gnomes was now a wasteland, appearing to have been trampled by an ogre! I was just about to comment on the destruction that had taken place, thinking to myself “why did I bother?” when she returned to the fairy garden and I got a glimpse into her play. She was playing a very dramatic game with the fairies and indeed there had been some destruction – a storm! As I listened to her playing and observed the way she made changes to the garden, to suit the progress of her play, I felt relieved that I hadn’t commented, that I had taken just a moment to observe, to really see what was important. It didn’t matter that it was a “mess”. To her, it wasn’t a mess. Why did it need to look pretty? Why did I feel so personally affronted that she had “rearranged” the play space? After all… it is a PLAYspace! What else should I have expected her to do there?

This is not just a problem isolated to my own backyard. It is something playing out in early education services around the country (and possibly the world) each and every day. Educators are spending copious amounts of time creating beautiful, inspiring play spaces inspired by beautiful books, Pinterest and other social media. There is nothing at all wrong with that! Showing a commitment to aesthetics and a respect for the physical environment and resources provided for children is something we deeply value and discuss in our High Quality Environments training session. Where the problem arises is when we, the educator, take too much ownership over the play space. We have this idea in our head of how it should be played with and what it should look like and when we return from our lunch break to find the space in a state of “disarray” we have a tendency to feel frustrated. Frustrated with our colleagues for not “looking after it”. Frustrated with the children for “wrecking it.” 
Why? Because we spent so much time on it!

If you are sitting there nodding, thinking “oh I have done that!” you are not alone! When working in a centre, particularly in the first few years, I often found myself feeling frustrated with the children “wrecking my play spaces”
I needed to stop and ask myself:
  • Who is this play space for? – The children
  • What is it’s purpose? – Play
Two very simple questions (and answers) that changed the way I thought about creating play spaces. I didn’t stop investing time into creating aesthetically pleasing play spaces, but I did stop stressing about what they looked like as the day went on! I started really watching the way children were playing in these spaces and valuing the process of the play and the way in which it altered the physical space. I started looking at the “wrecked” play space as evidence of play rather than mess. And at the end of the day, when the time came to pack away and prepare for the next day, we reset the spaces – returning little animals and logs to their original place. 

When we change our thinking, when we look at things from a different perspective, we are able to not feel so offended when children use a play space or leave a play space in a way that is different to what we have expected. 



 




No Comments

  • Jo Caller

    Reply

    Oh I have been in this same place over the years. My disappointment was less on my investiture in the set up but for the children in the group in arrived later and were not able to enjoy the original aesthetics. I have since found my comfort space and that is to provide an inviting base setup and allow the children to add to it and enjoy as they wish. When they are finished it is an easy reset and all children enjoy the space as it is intended 😀

    June 11, 2016 at 5:53 pm
  • Linda Tandy

    Reply

    Yes I have been in this place often over the years. Like the above poster I set a base and the children build from there.
    You need to ask the question Why do I feel this way
    I sometimes setup a space for me to play should I feel like it and play beside the children. It fascinates them watching an adult play. The opportunity to observe how the children play along side you as well as away from you can come
    From being engaged at their level.
    Just my 5c worth

    June 11, 2016 at 6:55 pm
    • Jo Caller

      Reply

      I so agree Linda! I sit and play and the children will say ‘what are you doing Jo?’ And when I tell them they smile or laugh but inevitably join in.

      June 11, 2016 at 7:10 pm
    • Barbara Limb

      Reply

      As a grandmother I set up various things, and see what happens, I have avoided the fairy garden so far, as my rough and tumble boys would probably be too rough, but I love the idea of setting it up in a sand filled tyre, with a few bits there and having other stuff to add and seeing what they do. I now have some space to do that, so may give it a little go and see what happens.
      I was on Kindy roster the other day, and was surprised at the home corner, in such a tiny space, but space is space, and the children loved dressing up. It was great. I had to go before clean up, and I wondered what would happen, every out fit seemed to be off the hanger.

      June 16, 2016 at 11:16 am
  • Jones

    Reply

    Ive worked in childcare settings in scotland for 4 years and one thing that ive witnessed everywhere is “why are you putting water in the sand?! The sand is ruined!” While the children are feeling the gloopy texture of yhe sand and figuring ot how to model with it.
    It drives me crazy!

    June 11, 2016 at 8:18 pm
  • Kami Hicks

    Reply

    Yessssss!! And it even goes further…I know teachers who completely lose it if the play dough colors get mixed together or the paint brushes touch another color…

    June 12, 2016 at 12:15 am
  • Dianne

    Reply

    Great article, thanks for writing it. I would like to share this with other educators. Is there a way I can do this?
    Thanks

    June 12, 2016 at 12:22 am
  • Dianne

    Reply

    Great article, thanks for writing it. I would like to share this with other educators. Is there a way I can do this?
    Thanks

    June 12, 2016 at 12:23 am
  • Laneic

    Reply

    I LOVE this. It’s something i have to keep in mind too and constantly remind myself of, especially for dramatic play spaces. It’s often a discouragement for EC teachers to continue keeping aesthetics in mind unfortunately.

    June 12, 2016 at 5:57 am
  • Sheela Edwards

    Reply

    As an Owner there is a constant reflection and challenge between creating holistic play spaces where play is occurring and balancing this with creating warm and inviting environments when new parents come in for their first visit around the education service. I would encourage educators to continue with their wonderful work and focus on evidencing that play is occurring and to ensure that we pay close attention to investigating carefully what play is occurring. This will give educators a sense of purpose whilst maintaining respect of our play spaces. Great article for reflection as an owner giving me some new ideas and opportunities.

    June 12, 2016 at 1:11 pm
  • Sheela Edwards

    Reply

    As an Owner there is a constant challenge between creating holistic play spaces and balancing this with creating warm and inviting environments when new parents come in for their first visit around the education service. I would encourage educators to continue with their wonderful work and focus on evidencing that play is occurring and to ensure that we pay close attention to investigating carefully what play is occurring. This will give educators a sense of purpose whilst maintaining respect of our play spaces. Great article for reflection as an owner giving me some new ideas and opportunities.

    June 12, 2016 at 1:14 pm
  • Sheela Edwards

    Reply

    As an Owner there is a constant challenge between creating holistic play spaces and balancing this with creating warm and inviting environments for new parents on their first visit. I would encourage educators to continue with their wonderful work and focus on paying close attention to investigating carefully that play is occurring. This will give educators a sense of purpose whilst maintaining balance and respect of play spaces. Great article for reflection as an owner giving me some new ideas and opportunities.

    June 12, 2016 at 1:17 pm
  • Sheela Edwards

    Reply

    As an Owner there is a constant challenge between creating holistic play spaces and balancing this with creating warm and inviting environments for new parents on their first visit. I would encourage educators to continue with their wonderful work and focus on paying close attention to investigating carefully that play is occurring. This will give educators a sense of purpose whilst maintaining balance and respect of play spaces. Great article !!

    June 12, 2016 at 1:18 pm

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